Data Across the Curriculum: Using Geospatial Data to Illustrate Historical Change

History is a discipline that is founded on looking at changes over time, and for Sarah Purcell, Professor of History, data is an essential tool in measuring that change. More specifically, Purcell employs geospatial data to investigate historical change in both time and space for her Civil War & Reconstruction class, which focuses on the causes, progress, and consequences of the Civil War and Reconstruction with an emphasis on race, politics, economics, gender, and military conflict.

Purcell uses a stair-step approach in getting students exposed to geospatial data, first by using Google Maps to compare Civil War battleground locations to the locations of students’ hometowns, then investigating how other historians have used data, especially economic and demographic data, in tandem with historical narrative. Finally, Purcell has her students work with ArcGIS, an analytical map-making software, to visualize geographic trends in various historical data. For example, students in the class explore on black soldiers who enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Civil War in an in-class exercise (Figure 1) that encourages them to think critically about military data.

 

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To Sarah Purcell, data is important due to its wide applicability: using data in the context of history teaches a valuable lesson about how data can enhance just about any discipline. Moreover, in the history field, there exists a broad array of different types of data to be utilized, both qualitative and quantitative. While Purcell admits that some students have easier facility with working with data than others, she stresses that the struggle is important in internalizing quantitative literacy and getting accustomed to confronting data, an essential skill. The amount of involvement with data students get in her courses has impacted her students in a variety of ways: some students have gone on to get further training in ArcGIS via formal coursework, and others have been able to secure jobs, citing that employers are largely attracted to data skills in historical work.

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Visualizing Mass Communications and State Institutions in Wartime China (1937-45)

In China, the study of history has always gone hand-in-hand with the study of geography. When studying China’s modern history, however, focus has shifted toward large-scale processes, such as revolution, and large-scale sociological transformations, such as changing class relations. More recently, however, some historians are starting to bring geography back in. Pathbreaking endeavors such as the China Historical GIS project and Harvard University WorldMap platform-based ChinaMap allow researchers to visualize the transformation of China across space and time. The result has been a new understanding of China and Chinese history highlighting the spatial distribution of ethnic and linguistic diversity, economic development, elite networks, and state institutions. One exciting result of this new understanding is that it allows students and researchers alike to visualize large-scale processes across time periods, which can in turn lead to new questions about how different places might have experienced the same era or event. Through the use of spatial approaches, we are challenged to rethink the applicability of national historical narratives to local human landscapes.

As a teacher and researcher of East Asian history, much of what I do focuses on how media, institutions, and person-to-person networks have connected the modern Chinese state to populations both inside and outside of China. Working in tandem with DASIL, I have begun to build and visualize datasets which describe how the “connective tissue” of state-building looked during the period of China’s War of Resistance to Japan (1937-1945)—a period of intense destruction and dislocation which some historians have also described as key period of modernization. This data is drawn from two editions of The China Handbook: a publication of the Chinese Ministry of Information released in 1943 and again in 1946. I discovered this publication quite by happenstance while searching the Grinnell College Library collections for local gazetteer data related to the period of China’s Republican Era (1911-1949). The value of The China Handbook is that it provides comprehensive provincial and urban data for a number of indicators of state development; here we (myself and DASIL’s outstanding post-bac fellow, Bonnie Brooks ’15) have focused on data concerning communications, education, and health care. To be fair, and as admitted by The China Handbook’s original editor, Hollington K. Tong, this data is not exhaustive, nor is it necessarily reliable given the rapidity of changes brought about by war and resulting partition of China into competing political zones. It does, however, represent at least a starting point for visualizing what China’s wartime states looked like “on the ground,” viewed through the lens of communications and other institutional infrastructure.

Below the level of national boundaries, modern China is divided into numerous separate administrative units known as provinces. However, the number of provinces has changed with time and successive governments, which poses a challenge for those seeking to visualize data at the province level for eras during which the number of these units was larger than it is today—as was the case during the latter half of the Republican Era, which witnessed a proliferation of efforts to tame China’s restive and geopolitically fragile borders through the process of province-building. A key part of Bonnie’s contribution, then—the results of which will hopefully be used and refined by other researchers working at the intersection of geographic information systems (GIS) and modern Chinese history—was the creation of new shapefiles corresponding to each province that existed during the 1937-1945 period. The resulting maps are thus entirely new creations, and will hopefully serve to help bridge the current gap which lies between geospatial research on imperial China and research on contemporary China after Mao.  The shapefiles are available for download in DASIL’s Downloadable Data section.

For the map:

    • The Contents button(contentsbutton) will display all layers. Unclick the checkbox next to the layer name to hide the layer. To view the legend, click on the “Show Legend” icon (contentsbutton) below the layer name.
    • To examine other variables, find the “Change Style” button (contentsbutton) below the layer name you wish to view, then select the desired variable from the “Choose an attribute to show” drop-down menu.  You may alter the map with colors, symbols or size. You may also alter variables (e.g. normalize variables by population).
    • Click on an individual Chinese province to see available data.
    • The shapefiles featured in the map are available for download on the DASIL website. Click here for the download.

 

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Map of Majors Declared at Grinnell College from 1985 -2015

Explore the geographic trends associated with declaring a major at Grinnell College!

For the map:

    • The Contents button(contentsbutton) will display all layers. Unclick the checkbox next to the layer name to hide the layer. To view the legend, click on the “Show Legend” icon (contentsbutton) below the layer name.
    • To examine other majors, find the “Change Style” button (contentsbutton) below the layer name you wish to view, then select the desired major from the “Choose an attribute to show” drop-down menu.  You may alter the map with colors, symbols or size.
    • Click on an individual country or US state to see available data on all majors.


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Investigating the Spatial & Temporal Trends of Declaring a Major

The start of the school year is a time many students start putting thought into what disciplines to study for the remainder of their collegiate careers. Many on-campus resources such as the Center for Careers, Life, and Service are already in the full swing of advising students, such as the “Choosing Your Major” info session on Sept 21st from noon to 1 in the Joe Rosenfield Center. Here in DASIL, we thought it would be fun to investigate what Grinnell College students majored in over the years to illustrate the transformation of student academic patterns. Using data from the Office of Academic Affairs, Office of the Registrar, and the Office of Analytic Support and Institutional Research, we created two interactive graphics. One is a line graph presenting the number of declared majors over time from 1991 to 2015 by major and rank compared to other majors. Our second visualization is a geographic map with two layers: the US layer breaks down the proportion of students by state and major from 1985 to 2015, while the world layer illustrates the proportion of international students by country and major.

Click on the Details button below to find out more about the data for each visualization.

For the map:

    • The Contents button(contentsbutton) will display all layers. Unclick the checkbox next to the layer name to hide the layer. To view the legend, click on the “Show Legend” icon (contentsbutton) below the layer name.
    • To examine other majors, find the “Change Style” button (contentsbutton) below the layer name you wish to view, then select the desired major from the “Choose an attribute to show” drop-down menu.  You may alter the map with colors, symbols or size.
    • Click on an individual country or US state to see available data on all majors.

For the line graph:

  • Choose your major(s) of interest in the “Select a major to display” field.
  • Hover over each point to display information on a major’s rank by class year and the number of students declared. Hover over a line to view the path of a major over time.


 

 

The Biology major holds the record for most students declared within this time frame, at 53 students for the Class of 1995. Since its creation, the number of students who major in Biological Chemistry increased leaps and bounds, ranking as the second most-declared major in the Class of 2015, tied with Psychology. Economics shows a general increasing trend over time, while majors like English and Sociology show erratic variability throughout.

American Studies majors appears to be representing the South and Southwest regions of the US, while Sociology is prominent in states located in the Midwest and, similarly, the South. A large proportion of students hailing from California study the hard sciences, especially Biological Chemistry. Surprisingly, there is a significant proportion of biology majors represented in most of the states.

Scoping out, the social sciences and hard sciences are popular disciplines among international students. Economics, Biological Chemistry, and Math are popular, especially in countries like China and India. Several humanities majors are not well-represented by international students, such as Theatre and Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies.

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Kick Off Summer Vacation With Tourism Data!

Commencement is over at Grinnell College, and here at DASIL we’re settling into our summer routine. What better way to start the summer than with a look at tourism data?

* Interested in knowing how many people visit U.S. national parks annually? The National Parks Service has 111 years of visitor data for national parks.

Total Visitors to Yellowstone Nat'l Park from 1903 to 2014

* Can you guess which country sends the most visitors to the United States annually? When you have your guess, visit the site of the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries of the U.S. International Trade Administration to find out the answer!

* Thinking about vacationing somewhere chilly this year? The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators has fifteen years of historical data about visitors to Antarctica.


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